During National Volunteers Week, it seems most appropriate to spotlight three patients who chose to volunteer at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute: Pat Gaines, Kathy Bierek and Millie Jones.
Here are their stories.
Pat, a 25-year cancer survivor, is happy to report her last surgery was two years ago. “Twenty five family members have been diagnosed with colon cancer,” she begins her story. Pat, and her 25 relatives, are victims of Lynch syndrome, a dominant genetic condition that carries with it a high risk of colon cancer and many other cancers.
Under the continuous care of Rizwan Danish, MD, medical oncologist with Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, Pat speaks very confidently about his skills, compassion and his true sense of caring. “If there was a specialist he felt could help me, that was where he wanted me to be,” she says. “Lynch syndrome causes many complications, and Dr. Danish wanted me to have the best people caring for me. But, I’ve always returned to Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute for my outpatient treatments. Dr. Danish and the staff are so supportive, and the programs and classes offered at the institute have made such a big difference in my quality of life, and my physical as well as emotional healing.”
About three years ago, Pat was asked to help open a gift shop inside Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute. She, along with Kathy and Millie, not only worked together to open the shop, but they also oversee its daily operations.
Kathy, the second member of the gift shop volunteer team, learned “by accident” that she had cancer. In 2012, during her annual checkup, a suspicious spot showed up on her chest X-ray. After a CT scan and a biopsy, Kathy was told she had a very rare form of cancer in her trachea.
The day of her surgery, her husband had a stroke. She doesn’t talk much about her cancer and her surgery; she was focused on her husband and his recovery. “I am so grateful for the support groups Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute offers. They helped me through some pretty difficult days.”
After her surgery, Kathy needed 31 radiation treatments at GHCI, followed by many follow up visits. Haesook Kim, MD, radiation oncologist at the institute, oversaw her treatment every step of the way.
“She is an incredible physician and woman,” Kathy says. “When Dr. Kim retired last year, she spent over a year searching for the perfect replacement, someone who would love her patients just as much as she did. It was that important to her that her patients remained in capable and loving hands. Dr Paul Kocheril was the physician she chose. He brings all of the same skills and compassion of Dr. Kim.
“Through my treatments at GHCI and my participation in many of the programs the institute offers free of charge to its patients, I have learned so much, I have grown so much, I have made so many friendships and I’ve been able to help others through their hardships,” Kathy is proud to say.
“I feel at home here (GHCI). There’s always something or someone who needs some help and I am grateful I can share my story and my support.”
When Kathy was asked to volunteer at the gift shop, she didn’t hesitate to say yes. “I wanted to give something back to those who were with me every step of the way during my cancer treatments,” she announces. “Everyone at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute is so wonderful. I feel like they are my family.”
From working at the gift shop, Kathy has learned “I can provide support to other patients undergoing treatment. When I tell them I am a cancer survivor, it seems to relieve their fear and anxiety. One day, a patient came in and was in tears. She felt her life was over when she received her diagnosis. We talked for awhile, and she left feeling hope again. Helping her also gave me more strength,” Kathy finds. “So many patients come into the gift shop and ask us to pray for them. We do a lot of praying around here.”
“Volunteering at the gift shop takes my mind off my troubles,” reports Millie, who proudly claims herself as one of the three musketeers in the gift shop. She finds the programs GHCI offers for patients invaluable. “After class, I am totally ready to face whatever is in front of me.
Millie was introduced to the GHCI when she learned eight years ago she had breast cancer. “I went in for my regular check up and, after additional testing, I was diagnosed.”
Her family physician – Melinda Wheatley, MD – immediately referred Millie to Linsey Gold, DO, a surgical oncologist. “She is the best of the best,” Millie announces. Millie required extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and, today, she is feeling great. She describes her cancer as “just another problem in my life. I had so many support people and so many fantastic doctors at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute how could I not feel positive,” she says. “And I love my new short hairdo, and my new natural hair color,” she laughs. “I had long, beautiful hair down to my shoulders before my chemotherapy treatments. At first, I was horrified when I started losing my hair, but now I embrace my new look,” she smiles as she runs her fingers through her short bob.
Millie notes that it was her husband who had much more difficulty dealing with her diagnosis and treatment. “I assured him I was in a wonderful place for my care and was surrounded by skilled people and plenty of support to help me through my recovery. Everyone I have met at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute is compassionate and will take the time to listen.
“I’m a cancer survivor and I am going to live!” she announces.
Kathy quickly chimes in: “I just celebrated my 74th birthday; I don’t wait for a birthday to celebrate my life. Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute is a place full of hope.”
Pat shares the same sentiments as Kathy and Millie. “The team here has their heart in everything they do every day. We are constantly surrounded by warmth. When I say the people here care, I want to emphasize that they really, sincerely care. I have been in many facilities for my cancer care and nowhere even comes close to what Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute gives to its patients.”